Menahga settles lawsuit with former employee
The city of Menahga settled a lawsuit filed by a former Greenwood Connections nursing home employee for $55,000.
Former certified nursing assistant Alycia Usher filed the suit in U.S. District Court in February 2009, claiming damages for lost wages and compensation for injuries when she became pregnant and lost her job at Green Pine Acres in 2005-2006.
"I am happy it's over. That's the only reason I settled," Usher said in an interview. "I wanted change for the nursing home, so they couldn't do it to anybody else."
The case was settled in September, but this month, the Greenwood Connections Advisory Board asked the council to be reimbursed for legal fees spent on that case.
Before she served a civil court action, Usher filed a claim with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which found probable cause of discrimination by the city, according to court documents.
Numerous allegations against the city were filed, most of them were denied.
According to court documents:
When Usher became pregnant in the fall of 2005, she was diagnosed with placenta previa, "a condition that can threaten the health of the mother and baby, and can be life-threatening."
She was advised by her doctor to avoid all heavy lifting and strenuous activities, but she could lift up to 20 pounds when necessary at work.
Usher claimed there were duties at Green Pine Acres that didn't require certified nursing assistants to lift more than 20 pounds, and that her employers didn't provide her with those alternative "light" duties while she was pregnant.
The city denied that allegation, explaining that lifting up to 50 pounds was an essential function of the job.
The city admitted that Usher could not be offered alternative work with restrictions caused by her pregnancy.
Usher claimed she was terminated, but the city's response was that Greenwood Connections staff members informed her the final decision would be up to the council, who did not terminate her at that point.
Usher was not qualified for a Family and Medical Leave Act leave because she had not been employed for one year. However, she was eligible for FMLA leave if she first used some accrued paid time off.
So she reportedly used some accrued paid time off and the city granted her a 12-week paid leave under the FMLA.
When Usher requested an additional six-month unpaid leave of absence in January 2006, the Greenwood Connections Advisory Board approved her request, but the city council overruled it, and Usher was terminated.
"If the city would've granted my unpaid leave of absence, instead of confusing it with the Family Medical Leave Act, this would've never happened," Usher said.
Usher still resides in Menahga and now works for Headwaters Country Club in Park Rapids.
She hasn't been in the long-term care field for a few years and said she's happy where she's at now.
At this month's council meeting, Greenwood Connections board member Donna Anderson said the total amount of legal fees spent on the Usher case should not have come out of the nursing home's budget.
"We made the right decision at that board," she said.
The nursing home board recommended that this month's bills be approved by the council with the exception of a $242.71 invoice paid to the city of Menahga for travel expenses.
City Administrator Teri Osterman, along with Greenwood Connections Administrator Clair Erickson, traveled to Duluth for the settlement hearing in September. Greenwood Connections was billed in October for those expenses.
The total amount of legal fees incurred from the lawsuit was not available, but the council denied Greenwood Connections' request for reimbursement of the travel expenses. All bills were approved including the invoice paid to the city.
It's all city budget, councilwoman Kim Rasmussen said, adding that if the same situation occurred in another department, for example the liquor store, legal fees would have come out of the liquor store's budget.
How settlement will be paid
Jana O'Leary Sullivan, attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities who represented Menahga on the Usher case, said the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, on behalf of the city, paid the $55,000 settlement.
Approximately $36,000 was paid to Usher and the rest was paid to her attorney Matthew Armbrecht.
Osterman said the city's insurance bill totaled a $500 deductible.
And according to Sullivan, the city's insurance premiums and deductibles will not increase because of this case.
"In very, very rare situations, the League of Minnesota Cities will alter the deducible," Sullivan said.